Being a writer can be many things; fun, exciting, exhilarating and even frustrating. Yes, writing can be very frustrating at times. For instance, after hours of research and pounding the keyboard to produce what you feel should be a very interesting article, you could then find just a smattering of people read it. Worse still, it’s turned down altogether. [Read more…]
Jumping into a freelance writing career is very exciting. Bursting with ideas, writers sit down in front of their computers anxious to discover what this wide, wonderful world has in store for them. Unfortunately, they often find tons of advice full of industry lingo that can be a bit confusing. Here is the first in the latest Article Quickie series designed to help you hit the ground running:
AP Stylebook or AP Style
Called the journalist’s bible, the AP Stylebook is a listing of how things like grammar, religions, titles, times etc. should be written within the text of an article. It was designed to make writing simple, uniform and unbiased within the newspaper industry, however many magazines and websites have adopted the guide as well. It’s my personal fave and I like to thumb through it on a regular basis for entertainment purposes, yes I am a nerd.
One of the main reasons why we do what we do – that little line below the title or way at the bottom of the post that reads “By Terreece M. Clarke” or, of course, your name. Some sites will offer to pay you in byline, but I have yet to find a mortgage company that accepts bylines instead of actual government currency – go figure.
Call-out Box or Pull-Out
A killer quote will often be placed in a call-out box. Some will use the term interchangeably with “pull-out quote.” The graphics department takes the killer quote i.e. “Yeah, so then I shot the bastard for looking at me.” and makes it pretty using a larger font, different color, or literally a colored box. How they do it depends on the publication and writers usually don’t have a say in how it looks.
Chicago Manual of Style
A system of proper notation, citation, manuscript formatting that serves as a guideline for academics, book authors and publishers. Some magazines and websites do use the Chicago guide instead of AP Style and it would be wise for authors to have a working knowledge of both styles and more importantly, their differences.
The catch-22 of freelance writing: a writer needs clips to get a gig, but you can’t get clips until you get a gig!” A clip is an example of your published work. Whether a blog post or a magazine article, it is defined as work you have done for a publication a self-published piece i.e. personal blog is normally not accepted. *See Writing Sample
Magazines that are for the general public are called consumer magazines. Men’s Health, O, Cosmopolitan, XXL, Playboy, etc. are consumer magazines. They are also called ‘glossies’. For some, these are the Holy Grail of bylines, competition to get in is usually fierce, but it is a fluid industry. Magazines are born and die every week and editors change positions and places of businesses more often than soap opera characters change bed partners.
Content or web content to be specific, describes a genre that creates information specifically designed for websites. This work is different than paper articles. The pieces are usually shorter, smaller paragraphs and written to be high on keywords for the search engine rankings.
Copywriters write info with an eye on selling a particular product or service. The blurbs on the back cover of books, sales letters, eye-catching billboards – all copywriting. The length of the material depends on the project.
In school it meant a cheat sheet for the test, in the magazine world it means a listing of a magazine’s in-house style guide. For example, one magazine’s guide may require the magazine’s name always written in all caps or a tech journal may list their preference on how the word ’email’ is written (e-mail vs email).
Any A – C terms I missed? Let me know and watch for D – G tomorrow!
A good lede (lead) draws readers into the piece. It’s purpose is to pique interest, tell readers what the piece is about and transition them into the body of the article. It also needs to develop rather quickly. That is a lot of weight to place on a paragraph or two, which is why it’s the area writers agonize over the most.
As with most things, writing improves through practice, critique and analyzing others. This exercise incorporates all three. Rewrite the ledes you come across throughout the day. Newspaper or magazine articles, blog posts – it doesn’t matter, simply read the piece and create your own lede for it. There are a few rules:
- The lede must be in your own typical style or niche. It’s not helpful if you suddenly become Tom Brokaw for a newspaper lede when you usually write a funny automotive repair blog. This is about taking what you do to the next level, not mimicking someone else.
- You must use the facts given in the article.
- Don’t agonize over it. The exercise is designed to improve your writing. It won’t work if you only do one rewrite in three hours. Keep it down to 10 minutes max, then move on to the next one.
- Complete five pieces then rest. Take a walk, check email, whatever you need to distract from the work.
- Look at both ledes – the original and your re-write – and critique. Be sure to recognize what is good about each piece as well as what needs work.
There are some ledes so brilliant, they either inspire you to pick up the keyboard or make you want to throw your laptop out the window. Those ledes are a product of hard work and practice. Fun, no pressure exercises are a great way to hone your craft – here’s to magnificent ledes!
Share your favorite writing exercise.
Bad content floods the web. It’s so bad that schools are giving out guidelines for sites to avoid when collecting information for reports. Many writers also use the web to research information, but how can we know if it’s someone else’s unreliable content rewritten ten times, or if it’s a realistic investigation or expose?
Perhaps these tips can help:
1. The article contains verifiable and checkable facts
Speculation isn’t fact, it’s speculation. Magazines and reputable websites have fact checkers on hand to check sources and content. Every important bit of information needs back up. If there is no basis for a statement or idea, move to an article written by someone who can put his money where his mouth is and back up his facts with proof. Look for studies, surveys, interviews as the basis for an article.
2. The article presents a balance of the pros and cons
Even in depth investigations leading to a negative result will list the positive plus the negative. If an article is angry in tone or sounds like a perky sales pitch, you’re not receiving all sides of the story. A good writer will present ALL the facts and let the audience draw their own conclusions.
3. Sources are real people not initials or ” word on the street”
Citing vague sources such as “some people say” or “experts claim” doesn’t prove anything. Who are these people? Who are these experts? Look for specifics, “according a study at the Mayo Clinic…” or “freelance writing blogger Anne Wayman says…” These are sources you can check. You can make sure the facts are correct. Vague information only leads to more vague information. Testimonials by unnamed, anonymous sources only tell you they may not be true. Real names back up real facts.
4. Interviews are conducted with all parties involved
If an article presents interviews backing up one side of the story but glaringly omits interviews backing up the other side of the coin, you have to wonder if the author is stating all the facts. A good writer knows his story won’t be hurt by presenting both the pros and the cons. In fact, a good writer knows if he leaves out important bits of information, his reputation is on the line.
5. The investigation contains actual information instead of handpicked letters from disgruntled sources
If an “investigation” consists of nothing but quotes or email excerpts from angry, no name people, consider the validity of the argument. A good writer isn’t afraid to interview all parties involved for an article, investigation or report. A good reporter doesn’t shape facts for his benefit. If you’re reading an investigative piece that isn’t fair and balanced, move on to the next article.
6. References are provided
As mentioned above, a reliable article includes references so the reader can verify facts and draw his own conclusion. Sources can include reputable university studies, reports and articles from government organizations, books and articles in well known magazines. Using vague web content on free article sites probably isn’t a good idea because many of these articles are written to create traffic for the writer’s website or blog. Always consider the source and check references before making a decision about whether or not an article contains reliable information.
7. Does the author have an agenda?
Does the article sound like an angry, bitter hate piece? It’s probably not a reliable article. Does it sound like the author is trying to drive traffic or promote a product or service? It’s probably not a reliable piece. If an article seems slanted in one direction or another, you’ll have to ask your self if the author has an agenda. Sometimes it’s so obvious you can spot the agenda a mile away. A good, reliable article will be even in tone without trying to sway the reader to one side or the other. Readers should always be left to make their own decisions.
8. The author of the article has a reputation for presenting fair and balanced information
Certain authors build trust among their readers. Good authors sell newspapers, magazines, books and drive traffic to websites. If an author has a reputation for presenting a fair, balanced and reasonable point of view, it’s easier to trust their articles as containing reliable information. (We’ll get into the different ways to trust a particular writer in an upcoming piece).
9. The article contains information not found on every single other article on the web
You can tell when an article is Googled and rewritten over and over again. The articles all sound the same and all contain the same information. Look for the articles that present new facts and arguments. Look for the articles that are written to inform rather than to bring in advertising revenue.
10. The article is hosted on a website or in a publication with a good reputation for providing quality content
Always consider the source. If the article is hosted on a website you haven’t heard of, research its hiring policies. Does it accept anyone without an audition, or do writers and editors have to submit to testing? Does the website or publication have a good reputation for presenting facts without a lot of spin? These are the sources to trust. Don’t blindly accept an article as fact, always consider the source.
Writers are smart people. We can tell if an article is written in five minutes or if the author has an agenda. We can spot rewritten content a mile away. Always use reliable sources for your research because it’s your reputation on the line. Just because it’s written, doesn’t make it so. Use your gut and get out your magnifying glass. If it smells rotten, it probably is.
Where do you go for your information – and how do you know it’s correct?
Credit where it’s due: Just got done reading Laura Spencer’s “Writing Thoughts vs. The Five Minute Article Writer.” It has me thinking a lot about article writing and what goes into writing a good article.
Can you write an article in five minutes? Me either. How about 30 minutes? Yes, sometimes. You see, I used to be a wedding writer. I worked for a wedding publication and wrote over 500 articles (over the course of a few years) for a wedding website. Though I know a little about weddings, I’m not an expert. There have been times when I wrote an “off the top of my head 300 word article” in about thirty minutes.
When people ask me if it’s true someone can really write two articles per hour, I say “yes, but it depends.”
It depends on:
- The topic
- The writer’s area of expertise
- The writer’s experience
- The amount of research
- The word count
- If interviews are needed
I can do a quick “how to choose a wedding veil” piece of web content in about 30 minutes. If I was to write about the wedding veil industry or changes in wedding veil trends including prices and designs, as well as interviews with wedding shop owners and wedding veil designers, this would take more of my time. Writing an in depth piece would most likely take several days to produce.
As I don’t agree with the “Google and rewrite” method of writing, I might take longer than some people to write a good article. If I’m writing a blog post off the top of my head requiring no research, I can get it done in less than 30 minutes.
Talk to me, writers. How long does it REALLY take you to write an article?